Playhouse Tulsa has a couple of shows in the works, the first of which is To Kill A Mockingbird, opening in the Williams in early February. Adrian Alexander, who I'm very familiar with due to his frequent appearances on the Heller stage, is cast as perhaps the noblest character in American literature, Atticus Finch. We did a quickie phone interview the other day, which included a question about the Atticus Finch who's NOT the noblest character in American literature, the one in "Go Set A Watchman", the controversial sequel to Mockingbird. Here's how the interview went.
Frank: Have you ever been involved in a previous production of “Mockingbird?”
Adrian: No, in fact I didn’t even know there was a stage version before Playhouse announced that they were doing it. I saw the audition notice and got excited about the idea. “Gee, that would be fun.”
Frank: When was the first time you read the book?
Adrian: Oh, must have been college. So around 1970, 72.
Frank: Not in high school?
Adrian: In Waxahachie, Texas in the mid 60’s? No, it would have been too controversial. That part of the country was still very segregated at that time. I had seen the movie at some point before, it must have been on TV. I don’t think the movie even played in Waxahachie in the 60’s.
Frank: Did you read the sequel, Go Set a Watchman?
Adrian: I did! In fact I was excited about it as soon as I heard. It prompted me to dig out Mockingbird and read it again before I read Watchman. I thought it was very interesting that on social media, people I knew, thoughtful people, scholars, were saying they would refuse to read the sequel. It was basically, “I have my version of Atticus Finch, and I don’t want it messed with.” We don’t want our icons disturbed. But I was very curious. I thought it fascinating to see Scout as a young woman, coming back to that culture. But they are two very different books, and Watchman isn’t the book that Mockingbird is. But I was glad to have the opportunity to see a different Atticus.
Frank: Does it affect how you’re playing the role?
Adrian: Not really. The script is true to the first book, and we’re all familiar with that. It’s not fair to the audience to have the Watchman Atticus suddenly rise up. I’m definitely not interested in muddying the waters. Atticus is who we think he is—and he’s a compelling character in his own right. He’s an icon.
Frank: This is the first time you’ve worked with Playhouse, right?
Adrian: I knew about them from their reputation. And of course, Courtneay is part of what I call the “Arkansas mafia.” Michelle Dill, Jenny Guy are from there as well. My first connection with Courtneay was through Barb Murn. She told me about a staged reading that one of Courtneay’s students, Samuel Hunt, was having for a play he’d written. That there was a good role for me and it would be fun. Delightful play really. I met Courtneay at the reading, and was impressed. When I heard about the auditions for Mockingbird, I immediately looked into it. She put some sides in a Dropbox, I decided to work on the one from Atticus. Though I would have been happy getting cast in any of those roles. Atticus was just the best side to memorize.
Frank: I know you’ve only been in rehearsal a week, but could you talk a little about some of the new people you’re working with.
Adrian: Well, to begin with there’s Courtneay. I’m tremendously impressed with how she runs rehearsals.
Frank: Have you gotten an impression of some of the other actors?
Adrian: I’m very much looking forward to working with Elle Kalcik, who plays Scout. She’s a student of Billie Sue’s. Even during the photo shoot, you could tell she has a lot of intelligence, poise. She brings a lot of energy to rehearsals. Perfectly cast.
David Anthony is our Tom Robinson, and I’m very impressed with his work. I believe he’s a student at ORU. And Jennifer Thomas, our Calpurnia. I’d actually already heard of her through both Michelle Dill, who worked with her on “Dreamgirls,” and Rebecca Ungerman, who I think directed her in The Color Purple. They both spoke very highly of her.
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